Our First Glimpse of the Pacific - Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
When Dustin and I visited Costa Rica, we spent the first half of the trip zip lining, rappelling down waterfalls and adventuring in La Fortuna and then moved on to the coast for the second half of our trip. We had purchased a vacation package which included airfare from Florida, hotels in two different cities in Costa Rica, and a rental car so we could explore at our leisure. The second hotel was in a city on the west coast called Quepos, which is near Manuel Antonio National Park. It was about a 5 hour drive from our first hotel due to all of the twisty, curvy roads but it was an absolutely gorgeous drive.
A few hours into the trip, we came upon a group of people who had parked and gotten out of their cars and were grouped together on an overpass peering down below at the river. This spiked our curiosity so we parked and went to see what the big deal was. As we approached, we saw a group of about 15-20 crocodiles below us that were lounging and feeding. Someone had purchased a raw chicken and had thrown it down to them to eat. It was crazy seeing so many at once and creepy to think that they infested the murky waters all around us in the rivers and lakes. Just over the overpass on the other side, there was another smaller grouping of people pointing in the trees. We looked up and saw two brilliantly colored macaws perched on a limb above us. Their colors were so vivid and they were beautiful to see in the wild! It felt a little surreal seeing all of this stunning wildlife in person!
As we approached our hotel in Quepos, we passed through many ocean side towns and got our first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. I had only ever seen the Atlantic Ocean so I was excited to be experiencing this side of the perspective! Soon we arrived at our hotel, Si Como No. The resort is nestled into lush green rainforest that covers the hillside and overlooks the ocean. There views were stunningly beautiful! The area has 12 isles off the coast and we could see two of them from our resort.
When checking in, we were upgraded from a standard room to a deluxe room free of charge, which meant our room had a nice sitting area and balcony overlooking the trees and the ocean.
We dropped our bags off at the room and then went to explore the resort a little. Si Como No is not just a hotel, but also a wildlife refuge and they even had their own butterfly garden! The buildings on the grounds seemed to almost have grown out of the jungle and were blended very nicely with the landscaping and the natural beauty of the area.
The pool area was gorgeous! With the views of the ocean, the swim up tiki bar, and the water slide, it was extremely inviting on a hot afternoon so we headed back to the room to change into our swim suits. While I was in the bathroom changing, Dustin started yelling for me to hurry up and come look! I ran out to the balcony to where he was standing and he pointed out to me what he had seen! Monkeys! Right in front of our balcony in the trees! We were so excited to see them in the wild! Something is so much more satisfying when I see an animal in the wild versus one that is forced to be there, like in a zoo. It was exciting to finally be seeing some of the wildlife that we had hoped to see during this trip!
The resort had two pools- an adults only pool and a family pool. The family pool had a water slide so of course we chose that one. After all, we are just kids in big people bodies!
After a few runs down the slide and trying out our new underwater digital camera, we swam up to the bar for a cocktail.
We both ordered a drink called “Monkey Business” which quickly became our new favorite drink! I forget what exactly was in it, but it was some combination of blended bananas, coconut milk, and rum and it was delicious! Being dorky tourists, we saved the banana slices that were used for garnishes on the drinks and took them back to our room to put on the balcony to try and entice monkeys to come closer to our room. Monkeys like bananas, right?! Later that night we looked out to see if anything had taken our bait and we found a small green lizard nibbling away on one of them. Not quite the catch we were aiming at, but it was still cute!
After showering up, we walked across the street to check out the resort’s butterfly garden. There was an array of vividly colored butterflies fluttering about when we walked through the netting and some of them even landed on us. The Blue Morpho Butterflies were my favorite! They had such a beautiful, iridescent color!
After walking around a bit and seeing all of the butterflies, we headed out to explore the area a little before it got dark. We were warned not to be out and about after dark, one because it wasn’t the safest, and two because the gate at our resort would be closing. We drove through the town and found that once outside of the resort area, it wasn’t much to look at. We stopped at a convenience store and picked up some snacks and drinks and then drove back near our resort to find a place for dinner. We found a place called El Avion (which translates to the airplane). It immediately drew us in, as it was constructed using a Fairchild C-123 cargo plane. The restaurant was built all around it and was so cool looking!
Intrigued with its unique appearance, we decided to try it out for dinner. The restaurant had outstanding views of the area, as it was perched atop the hillside and overlooked the Pacific. We were seated at a table with one of the best views in the place, right on the edge.
They were known for their seafood dishes and the food was amazing! As we finished dinner, the sun started to go down and it was mesmerizing watching it glisten across the ocean as it set, creating a beautiful night sky. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel to enjoy a couple of drinks on our balcony and look through the brochures that the concierge had given us so we could figure out what we wanted to do over the next couple of days.
The next morning, eager to see some more wildlife, we headed over to Manuel Antonio National Park. Thinking we were being directed into a parking lot designated for park tours, we followed the instruction of a man who appeared to be dressed in a park ranger uniform and pulled into a parking area alongside the street. The best way to describe what it looked like is to imagine that a house had been demolished and knocked down at this site. There were large remnants of wood, glass, nails, trash, etc. in this parking lot that they expected us to park on. Once we pulled in, we had no choice but to keep going forward due to the way that it was set up so we reluctantly drove over the debris, flinching the whole time in hopes that we wouldn’t pop a tire on our rental car. A little befuddled, we got out of the car to go talk to the guy who had directed us in. He said that this was not the national park but that they offered guides to take us to the park and on a nature hike once in the park. The whole situation made us a little skeptical and looking back, we probably should’ve just cut our losses and went and drove a little further to the actual national park, but we decided to follow this “guide” down the street instead.
Half wondering if we were being led to our deaths, I made sure my pocket knife was handy and Dustin kept a close watch of our surroundings.
Luckily everything turned out fine and our guide ended up being really nice and even pointed out some sloths and some iguanas on the way to the park.
It took us about 10-15 minutes before we reached the park entrance and our guide purchased our tickets with the money we had paid him up front and then we proceeded into the park area.
There was a series of trails that led all around the 682 hectare park. Our local guide had a keen eye for spotting wildlife in the dense trees and would stop along the way to point things out to us. He even had a telescope so we could zoom in and get good photos of the animals.
I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have seen anything but a deer that wandered out onto the trail at one point had we not been with our guide! Instead, we were able to see monkeys, sloths, a viper, iguanas, lizards, birds, and unfortunately for me, we even saw a banana spider! (Side note: I HATE any and all spiders with a fiery passion of 1000 suns!)
At one point, our guide told us to stop and be quiet and we heard a howler monkey making its call. If we had been in a jungle all by ourselves rather than a national park, I think I would have turned and booked it the other way! It was so eerie!
Manuel Antonio National Park has a lot of really nice beaches and we had chosen a trail to hike that ended one of the prettiest ones!
At this point, we said goodbye to our guide and spent some time by ourselves on the beach. The beach we were at was pretty secluded so we weren’t too concerned about leaving our belongings on the sand but our guide had warned us that the monkeys tend to get a little mischievous and oftentimes steal things from people so he said to make sure things were securely tied to a tree or wrapped around something. However, he mentioned nothing of raccoons and one almost ran off with my bag at one point!
The water was warm and we were in a beautiful cove swimming in the Pacific Ocean. The rainforest grew right up to white sand beaches and it felt idyllic! Until Dustin saw something shark like pop out of the water. I never saw it myself but we didn’t want to take the risk so we got out of the water and decided to head back to the hotel to swim some more where we didn’t have to worry about things being in the water that could eat us! At the end of the beach trail, we came to a small bay that had to be crossed in order to get back to the mainland without having to back track all the way through the park. We saw groups of other hikers getting into small boats that slowly motored them to the other side. We were wondering why people didn’t just swim across (it was a pretty small bay) and then we were told by one of the guys in the boat that there are crocodiles in the water, or “cocodrilos” as they are called in Spanish. Not sure if we should be thankful for this advice or if they were pulling our legs because we were tourists, we paid them the nominal fee and got taxied across the bay.
Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped at a couple of shops to buy some souvenirs.
After enjoying another afternoon swim at our resort and a couple more Monkey Business drinks, we decided to have dinner at our hotel restaurant. All of the restaurants in Costa Rica are open air for the most part and it was so nice dining with the warm air blowing in and being able to enjoy the views.
For our 3rd and final day in Manuel Antonio, we decided to go on a 4 hour catamaran cruise. We booked the cruise with our concierge and arranged for pick up at our hotel. We stopped at a couple of other hotels to pick up more passengers and then made our way to the marina. Our catamaran, Ocean King, was so much more awesome than we had expected! It was huge!
It had two decks- the main deck had a set of hot tubs, 2 trampolines that people could lay on and see through to the water below, a full bar, and upstairs had a sun bathing area with lounge chairs and two water slides that crisscrossed over the stern of the boat. It was incredible!
As we left the harbor, the crew started blaring “Danza Kuduro” over the sound system, which is a really fun, Latin song that was the perfect soundtrack for the experience. We were given wrist bands that allowed us each to have 8 drinks during the trip. I would have fallen off the boat had I drank 8 drinks in 4 hours, however it was nice to enjoy a few tropical rum punches!
We got to see dolphins, humpback whales and even two sea turtles! When we drove up on the turtles we couldn’t tell what they were from a distance but then realized it was actually two sea turtles mating!
Halfway through the cruise, the catamaran anchored in a nice cove and allowed us to go snorkeling. We were warned to keep our distance from the reefs because the waves tend to push people into them, cutting them up pretty good! The water wasn’t super clear but we did manage to see a school of brightly colored yellow fish before deciding to get out and play on the water slides.
They also let people jump from the top deck, which was exhilarating and so much fun! After playing in the water for a bit, we were served lunch and then went cruising around for a bit more before heading back to the marina. It was a beautiful, perfect day!
Just as we were docking, some dark clouds started rolling in. We had been so lucky that the bad weather held off for us!
That night, we got cleaned up and went to dinner at an Italian restaurant down the street for our final dinner in Costa Rica. Unfortunately, I don’t recall what it was named, but they had really good food and a nice, romantic ambiance with low lighting and open air again.
The next morning, we packed up our rental car and headed for the airport in San Jose. We had enjoyed an amazing vacation together and were sad to leave beautiful Costa Rica! I was also sad that I hadn’t been able to see a toucan, which is one of the animals I had most wanted to see during our visit! As we were driving through the mangroves on our way back, Dustin slammed on the breaks and quickly turned around the car. He pointed up in the trees and there it was! My toucan! I was so excited to see one, especially at the very last chance we would have to see one. We were literally on our way to the airport! It was so neat because keel beaked toucans are not very common on the Pacific side of the country and we still got to see one! Thanks God! Costa Rica left a really good impression on Dustin and I overall. The people there are so friendly and hospitable and the landscape is absolutely breath-taking! It’s an adventurer’s paradise! I definitely plan to return in the future!